Letter to the editor: In defense of Yik Yak

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*Just like the app, I wish to remain anonymous.*

In the early 2000s, Kenneth Adelman was taking pictures of the California coastline for the California Coastal Records Project (CCRP). Shortly after uploading some of the photos to the CCRP website, Barbra Streisand sent a cease-and-desist letter to the photographer regarding the posting of a picture of her house on the website. Almost overnight, people began going to the previously unheard-of CCRP website to view the photo. Since then, this phenomenon has been termed “The Streisand Effect.” Whenever a larger authority has attempted to censor or dissuade the general public from viewing or hearing about something, the opposite effect always seems to occur: The public rushes to see what is being censored, thereby destroying the intent of the censor.

Over the past few months, Lehigh has written many emails and editorials admonishing the use of the app known as “Yik Yak” due to the posting of “homophobic, racist and misogynistic language.” This has culminated in a campus-wide email suggesting that people stop using the app and delete it from their phones.

As expected, the usage of Yik Yak exploded. Suddenly everyone wanted to know what was so bad that even the administration had to send out an email to tell us to to stop using. “The Streisand Effect” had claimed another victim.

Indeed, the content of Yik Yak is offensive and is, at times, filled with hatred toward one group of people or another. However, this is to be expected of any anonymous forum. Any time the public is allowed to post their thoughts or ideas without any recourse, you’ll find this occurring. But beneath the vitriolic and offensive statements, you’ll find people who are just looking for another common soul, someone else who feels the same way they do.

The topics of the most popular posts right now include hoping for more school spirit, asking people to smile at a stranger, waxing poetic about missing someone they cared for deeply or even the implications of accidentally liking someone’s profile picture from 2008. Late at night, you’ll find people talking about loneliness, depression or anxiety, and every single time, someone will post reassuring words or remind them of the counseling services offered here at Lehigh.

Yik Yak is not for the faint of heart; the content of some of the posts are by no means work-safe. But underneath it all is the real soul of Lehigh: people who are in a new world away from their loved ones just trying to figure out who they are. And the fact that within the anonymous forum you do find kind words means that even when Lehigh students can (and will) say whatever they want, they still support each other when they’re down.

All of the students of Lehigh are adults and are capable of making their own decisions. If they choose to venture into the world of Yik Yak, it’s their own fault if they find something that offends them. Instead, you should take a different viewpoint on the topic of Yik Yak: Take what is posted with a grain of salt. Some people just like to post offensive things to make people angry. The administration shouldn’t try to stop or deter people from using Yik Yak. Instead, they should remind the students of what they are getting into if they decide to dive down the rabbit hole: an unfiltered, hyperbolic, and skewed anonymous forum filled with anxiety, hope and strong emotions.

After all, isn’t that what college is, anyway?

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1 Comment

  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    Cool story, bro. Next time someone says something hateful to my kid, I’ll tell her to just smile and shake it off, and look at a cute picture instead. It worked great in the ’30s in Europe.

    I really cannot imagine how we got all these presidential-candidate rallies full of open, violent racism and bigotry. The right to make such fora and hold such rallies is indeed the highest public good, hail the republic.

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